Teresa Edwards will be inducted August 12 as the only female player in the 10-person Class of 2011 in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. She is the first U.S. player to win four gold medals in Olympic basketball.
While sitting and talking about being a Hall of Famer when she was in town in early June, “It is what every sport person lives to be a part of,” admitted Edwards, now the head coach of the WNBA’s Tulsa Shock. She then added humbly, “I [do] realize the magnitude. I only think about it when people make me think about it.”
Since 1959, 303 coaches, players, officials, contributors and teams have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, located in Springfield, Mass. Sheryl Swoopes, one of Edwards’ players, is certainly one day to be inducted there as well. Two weeks ago, the six-foot 11-year veteran player was named one of the WNBA Top 15 All-time Players, another milestone asterisk in her illustrious career that includes a NCAA championship (Texas Tech, 1993), multiple Olympic gold medals and four consecutive pro titles (1997-2000).
“I hate it when people say, ‘Oh, they’re women — it’s the WNBA.’ I don’t care if its men or women — it’s hard to win championships. It’s hard to repeat in any sport, men or women. We won four in a row,” said Swoopes proudly. “The fact that we had ‘the Big Three’ [Cynthia Cooper and Tina Thompson along with herself], we had great players and great role players. We did what we had to do to win because that was the number-one goal.”
Swoopes also made history as the first female basketball player with her own shoe, the Air Swoopes.
“Who wouldn’t like to have their own shoe? I was thrilled when Nike approached [me] with the idea of designing a women’s basketball shoe,” she recalled. “All my collegiate career, I played in Pony and Converse, and I always wore men’s shoes. I couldn’t find a women’s basketball shoe because they didn’t make any.
“I thought they were pulling my leg or playing a joke on me,” continued Swoopes of the Nike folk, who brought her out to their Oregon headquarters and had her involved in the entire planning process, including “getting a mold of my foot.”
“I remember when I went into a Lady Foot Locker and saw my shoe on the shelf. I literally just sat in the store [and] I looked to see how many little girls would come to buy the shoes. It was just a special moment.
“When I signed my deal, it was unheard of. I was hoping it would open up more and more doors, not just with shoe companies but other endorsements,” said Swoopes, whose deal lasted 13 years (1997-2010). Earlier this year, Maya Moore of the Minnesota Lynx signed an endorsement deal for her own shoe with Nike. “I know she will represent the company very well,” noted Swoopes of the rookie. “If anybody is deserving of it, she definitely is very deserving of it.”
As one of the league’s oldest active players, Swoopes’ legacy already was secured when she left after one season in Seattle in 2008 — she didn’t need to return three seasons later.
“I’ll be perfectly honest,” said the league’s only three-time MVP (2000, 2002, 2005), “I had gotten to a place in my life that I was OK on the way it ended [on being waived].”
Then why join Tulsa, a club that chock full of young, inexperienced players? “I really feel like there’s a bigger reason and a bigger purpose for me coming back to play besides the basketball,” she responded. “I prayed about it and talked to my family about it. I feel it was God saying to me, ‘This is what I want you to do. This is how I want you to end your career. You still have a job to do, and it’s bigger than basketball.”
When asked if coaching could be in the picture when she finally hangs up her shoes, Swoopes answered with a smile, “Who knows? I don’t know. I have to do something when I’m not playing.”
Finally, as the Hall of Fame welcomes Teresa Edwards this weekend, it is only a matter of time when the place will do the same for Sheryl Swoopes.
“I never walked off the court having a regret — I always left everything on the floor,” concludes Swoopes on what she wants to be most known for. “I showed my love and passion for the game, and never took anything for granted.”
Sharon Robinson will talk about her father, Jackie Robinson, Monday, August 8, at 5 pm at the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center, 270 N. Kent Street, St. Paul. The event, sponsored by the “They Played for the Love of the Game, Adding to the Legacy of Minnesota Black Baseball” exhibit and is free and open to the public.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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